Faith in Schools? Autonomy, Citizenship, and Religious Education in the Liberal State

By Ian Macmullen | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
AUTONOMY AS A GOAL OF EDUCATION POLICY:
OBJECTIONS AND RESPONSES

IN THE PRECEDING CHAPTER, I hope to have shown that the instrumental value of ethical autonomy can be demonstrated by arguments that do not violate the appropriate conditions on public justification in liberal democratic politics. My purpose in doing so is to defend the claim that liberal states can and should adopt the cultivation of ethical autonomy as a goal of public education policy, overriding the objections of parents where necessary. But we are not yet in a position to make such a claim: even if the value of personal autonomy can be publicly justified, there might be other reasons to oppose the requirement that all children be educated for autonomy. Of course, there are a potentially infinite number of reasons that might be advanced against such a policy, and I cannot hope to list all these arguments, much less respond to them. But in this chapter, taking the conclusions of the previous chapter as given, I set out what I take to be the principal remaining objections to mandatory education for autonomy: roughly in decreasing order of importance, I consider objections grounded in parental rights, fairness to traditional cultures, possible conflicts with civic educational goals, the suffering of children, and autonomy itself. In each case, I develop the objection before explaining why I do not regard it as invalidating the claim that liberal states can and should require that all children be educated for personal autonomy.


PARENTAL RIGHTS AND INTERESTS

The argument in chapter 4 focused almost exclusively on the question of whether all children have an interest in developing personal autonomy. But this hardly settles the larger question about educational policy unless we believe that the interests of children are the only factors we need to consider to determine such policy. Some people do believe this: Shelley Burtt (1996, p. 414) proposes that “authority over children ought to be distributed according to the ability and willingness of the relevant parties to meet children's needs” and certainly not according

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